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IRONCLADS & DARK SWIMMERS

-- INSTALLATION LAST PRESENTED ON MAY 18, 2012 --

Our VENUE is the Hillsborough River at night during a waning moon and a full tide. 

The HILLSBOROUGH RIVER has its origin in dense swamps north of Tampa, Florida.  It winds its way slowly through the center of the city, passing river homes – with DOCKS and BOATS old and ruinously new – through the shipbuilding PORT OF TAMPA, then under the BAY BRIDGES to the heaving GULF OF MEXICO.

We pilot TWO VESSELS armed with SCREENS and video projectors, a sophisticated sound system, plus generators, smoke machines, and soundless electrical propellers for the downstream voyage and powerful outboard motors for the upstream journey. 

These vessels are twenty-five and fifty feet long, and clad in REFLECTIVE SHEET METAL. Their forms imitate the famous civil war gunboats the MONITOR and the MERRIMACK, which struggled to a shattered draw at Hampton Roads in 1863. Their shutter operated gun ports house video projectors on carriages so they can be aimed, and their flanks have built in flat screen television displays.

In a carefully coordinated dance, the two vessels project images onto each other, and toward the shore and structures they pass, and also onto the sails of the FLOTILLA of small boats accompanying the vessels.  This silent fleet of canoes, kayaks and fishing skiffs is piloted by experienced river people using paddles, oars and SILENT electric “trolling” motors. The SAILS are hand made of nylon, highly reflective of light yet translucent so that an image projected on them may be read from both sides. The fabric is so porous that it offers almost no resistance to wind, making navigation simple and safe.

We begin at dusk in the pools below the dam at 40th Street, and parade slowly more than seven miles down river, stopping at Hannah’s Whirl, at the Hillsborough Avenue bridge and the Sulphur Springs pool, the Water Tower park, and the Channel District with its shops and theaters, to the mouth of the river and the Gulf of Mexico.

Around 11 pm we will do the final performance of the night within sight of the Port of Tampa, before berthing to allow inspection of the vessels and socialization with the artists and crew.

The next evening we will reverse the process, offering a different performance of IRONCLADS and DARK SWIMMERS at each stopping point as we power up the river. We will repeat this cycle, once a week, for three weeks.  To accomplish this we will work with a crew of artists who have been involved in this project for more than a decade, on vessels purpose built, tested and modified, to an audience who have learned to expect us, and celebrate us.

GOALS AND PURPOSE

1.       To foster an evergreen love of the people of Tampa Bay –  and their guests and strangers – for the beautiful HILLSBOROUGH RIVER.

Tampa had its beginning as a port city, and the Hillsborough River was its vital life line to the sea.  It offered swifter and simpler transport than the sandy roads, so it was natural for the town to grow to a city along the river.  The docks, homes businesses and boats which make the River journey to the Gulf fascinating, are the natural result of this impulse.  

Then came the railroads and later the automobile, and the passionate, sometimes thoughtless, industrial growth which has driven cities, and even countries, for the last 150 years.  Tampa’s river fared only a little better than Chicago’s rivers, or Providence’s river, or that of Cleveland. At best they were all badly cared for and unregulated.  At worst they became polluted, rubbish choked fire traps. Providence actually covered its river over and forgot about it.

Happily, years of work at raising consciousness of what we lose when we destroy our rivers and their wetlands – and the oceans they flow into – have begun to reverse this process.  The Chicago River, for example, is now an ornament to the city, and a destination for tourists.  In Providence they have uncovered their beautiful river, and celebrate it with frequent night time Son et Lumiere (Sound and Light) performances.  

We seek this same heightened consciousness of our river, but while the tide is currently flowing in our direction, it is also true that our times are very critical, and that decisions we make now will irretrievable effect our descendants, forever.

Rivers can and do link the people who live on them and use them.  Companionship of river lovers is a pleasant one, and lasting.  Our performances draw people outside to the river, in an event passed slowly, like a solemn gift, from dock to dock and neighborhood.

2.       To foster increased understanding of the history of the Hillsborough River, from way back then … until now.

3.       To make visible that mysterious and seldom seen beauty that flows beneath the surface of our river; to project it above and beyond the water itself onto the river’s banks at night and onto the sails and hulls of its watercraft.

4.       To present a classical-like tragedy – acted-out on the river – exploring the use and misuse of boats in times of war: The battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack as forerunners of the Cold War one hundred years after the Civil War.

     
  A BEND IN THE RIVER - MPEG4

VICTORY AT SEA - MPEG4

HILLSBOROUGH ON THE NILE - MPEG4